Small Towns, Big Impact: Atmore, AL

Smart Growth America partnered with T-Mobile to support Atmore, Alabama’s efforts to complete a Water Conservation and Butterfly Pollination Park. These efforts revitalized Atmore’s downtown, supported compact residential development, and helped preserve open land and green spaces.

Launched in 2021, T-Mobile’s Hometown Grant program is investing in the power of community-driven initiatives to ensure small towns can connect, innovate, and grow together, dedicating $25 million through 2026 to support community development projects in towns nationwide. We partnered with T-Mobile to deliver technical assistance to six of these communities. To learn more, visit
Close-up of a colorful mural in Atmore, Alabama depicting trees, people, and nature along with the town's name
Photo courtesy of Main Street Atmore

Project background

Atmore, Alabama, a small town of just over 8,000 people, is home to a diverse population that is 44% White, 53% Black, 1% American Indian and 2% Hispanic/Latino. Atmore also has a large veteran population of almost 600 and a poverty rate of 37%. A vibrant and active economic development organization, Main Street Atmore, is working to enhance existing community assets and build on its unique elements. One of these assets is the Water Conservation and Butterfly Pollination Park in the heart of downtown. Completed with funding from T-Mobile’s Hometown Grant program, the park draws local residents and visitors to downtown Atmore to learn about the local environment and spend time outdoors.

An aerial view of the garden in progress in Atmore, AL. You can see a pathway starting to form where green space will eventually flourish.Uniquely, Atmore is divided into two noncontiguous pieces of land, the first bordering the Florida panhandle and containing Atmore’s historic downtown with surrounding neighborhoods. The second portion of the city, locally known as Rivercane, is about five miles north of downtown near Interstate 65. This land is home to the local community college and next to the Wind Creek Casino, which is run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The casino is located on reservation land and just outside city limits, which means Atmore does not collect tax revenue from the business, but the casino attracts thousands of visitors from Pensacola, Florida, Mobile, Alabama, and beyond every year.

In 2019, Smart Growth America held a workshop in Atmore to discuss the city’s plans and strategies to support future growth. Conversations with community members, business owners, and local representatives resulted in a clear path forward for Atmore—one aligned with smart growth principles like downtown revitalization, the preservation of open land and green space, and compact residential development. At its inception, the Water Conservation Park sought to capitalize on existing assets in downtown Atmore: small specialty retail, restaurants, and coffee shops. Following SGA’s work in Atmore, the local visionary for the project, Terrence Breckenridge, Vice President of Main Street Atmore, pushed the project forward.  

Goals and outcomes

A young woman in a Harvard t-shirt lounges in a butterfly bench inside the new park, demonstrating that this is a fun place for youth to gather and rest.

The expected outcomes from this project were related to activating spaces downtown, specifically targeted toward local veterans, while also providing an educational space for youth and support for local businesses. The park has inspired new businesses to locate downtown, seeking to capitalize on the park’s ability to increase foot traffic. The park also connects to the newly installed mural trail that creates a two-mile loop throughout downtown Atmore—part of the larger network of Alabama mural trails. Local students haven’t had arts programs in their schools in Atmore for 13 years, so the mural trail allows students to see public art installations first-hand and experience their hometown in a new way. The park has also been used by students for field trips to learn about the life cycle of insects, native plants, and environmentally friendly water conservation tactics, and it has been used to facilitate civic mentorship programs between veterans and students.

Atmore’s key goals for the park project included increasing pedestrian connectivity and establishing spaces to spend time in downtown. Throughout the pandemic, downtown Atmore and the Main Street program had to be nimble in their funding and implementation strategies due to shifts in the local population and changing community demands. Currently, the space is not used by students and youth as much as it could be, but the park is just at the beginning of its life, and plans are in the works to program the space for these groups with help from the local veterans’ association and schools.

A crane places a barn's facade inside the site of Atmore's new park, while two men carry a large metal beam into position

Financing and construction

To kickstart the project, the city started by gathering funding and critical community and volunteer support. Main Street Foley board member and Main Street Hero honoree, landscape architect Chad Watkins did pro-bono design work for the landscaping of the park, and Main Street Atmore remained committed to the vision of more greenspace downtown. The total cost of the project was over $220,000, and was funded through a T-Mobile Hometown Grant, donations from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, United Bank, the governor’s COVID relief funds, and various funds from private parties. Construction on the Water Conservation Park started in 2021 and was completed less than a year later. Throughout the construction process, creating an outdoor recreation and gathering space that provided a unique experience for both locals and visitors remained a top priority.


Community impacts

Importantly, the city and the local tribal government have worked together over the past three years to support the health, wellness, and economic development of both Rivercane and downtown Atmore. Atmore has a high proportion of Black and Indigenous Americans that live either within or just outside of city limits, and the health conditions in these groups are below the national average, a result of a lack of access to medical care and fresh food options. The park creates opportunities for physical activity and interaction with nature.

“People will surprise you and people will disappoint you. Teamwork is critical for getting through the ups and downs.” —Dale Ash, Founder, Main Street Atmore

One of the most important outcomes of this project was the local energy it created—it brought the community together around a central focal point and created new life in a space that carries historical importance for many residents. An overarching strategy for not only the development of the park, but also the entire downtown area, was vital to keep projects on track and to present a unified vision to locals. Together with help from T-Mobile, SGA, local partners, and volunteers, Atmore was able to transform an underutilized space in the center of downtown into a place that provides a unique experience to everyone who visits.  

We built upon our history working with rural communities by providing technical assistance to a select group of T-Mobile’s Hometown grant recipients. Read about all six communities by clicking the links below.

Land Use and Development